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Source: Human Rights Commission

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, the Human Rights Commission is marking 50 years since Aotearoa New Zealand’s first piece of human rights legislation, the Race Relations Act 1971 came into effect, on April 1st, 1972.  

Current Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon says that the Race Relations Act laid the foundation for today’s Human Rights Commission, and has played a vital role in progressing more harmonious race relations in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

New Zealand signed the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1966 and ratified it in 1972. The Convention requires access to a complaints process to address racial discrimination compaints. New Zealand had no existing mechanism at the time and so the Race Relations Act was enacted in 1971.

“Aotearoa New Zealand is dramatically more diverse and multicultural than it was fifty years ago, and our work now reflects that” says Mr Foon.  

“More than 200 ethnicities live here in Aotearoa New Zealand now. This multi-cultural landscape is a strength, with each community adding to the rich tapestry of Aotearoa.” 

“Now, more than ever, we must focus on building harmonious relations between all of us in Aotearoa, grounded in a growing understanding of our responsibilities to each other under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  

“Racism will not stop of its own accord, so we need to act together to stop it and the Race Relations Commissioner will always have a vital role to play in bringing our communities together to do that” says Mr Foon. 

The Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, nationality or ethnic origin. This scope was extended to cover discrimination on the grounds of marital status, sex, religious or ethical belief in 1977.   

The Act also created the Race Relations Concilliator role to promote positive race relations and establish a conciliation process to deal with racial discrimination complaints. 

In 2001 the Office of the Race Relations Concilliator merged with the Human Rights Commission. The Concilliator role was replaced with the current Race Relations Commissioner role, and is one of the four Commissioners that make up today’s Human Rights Commission, alongside the Disability Rights Commissioner, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner and the Chief Human Rights Commissioner.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt says the Race Relations Commissioner and team have a unique and crucially important role in Aotearoa New Zealand, to promote positive race relations and encourage harmonious relations between individuals and diverse groups. 

“I am proud all of the past commissioners’ contributions to positive race relations, and I am always aiming to build on their great mahi” says Mr Foon. 

Race Relations Commissioners and Conciliators: 

  • Meng Foon (2019–present) 
  • Dame Susan Devoy (2013–2018) 
  • Joris de Bres (2002–2013) 
  • Gregory Fortuin (2001–2002 
  • Rajen Prasad (1995–2000) 
  • John Clarke (1992–1995) 
  • Chris Laidlaw (1989–1992) 
  • Wally Hirsh (1986–1989) 
  • Hiwi Tauroa (1980–1986) 
  • Harry Dansey (1975–1979) 
  • Judge Ken Mason (Deputy Conciliator) (1972 -1989)  
  •  Sir Guy Powles (1972–1973)